How to Properly Fit a Pack

Whether you prefer an internal or external frame, make sure you get a good fit by having an outdoor retail specialist, or friend measure your torso length. To do so grab a measuring tape and measure up the spine. Start at the top of the hipbone and run the tape in a straight line up the spine to the large knuckle at the base of the neck (also known as the seventh cervical vertebrae, in case you want to impress your friends). The number that appears will be your torso length and a starting point for sizing your pack. Many packs on the market will list a range, such as ‘fits 14-17” torso length’. This means the pack is adjustable within those size ranges. If you are a 15” torso length for example- this might be a pack for you.

Also be sure to look at the weight of the actual pack itself. Some lightweight packs don’t have the “stays”, also known as frame support necessary to carry your trail contents comfortably. Lightweight packs also are lean on padding, which can cause all sorts of discomfort if the pack is heavy or overloaded. A pack that weighs a little more, may actually feel lighter on your back if it has good padding and a strong frame to lift the weight away from your shoulders and hips.

Here’s another trick for a good fit:

Make your palm flat with your fingers pressed together and thumb sticking out.

Then cross your arms and tuck your hand underneath your arm pit with your fingers pointing towards your back and your thumb visible on your frontside.

In this position, with your backpack on, the shoulder strap’s slider buckle should be just below your 4 fingers. If the buckle is substantially lower than your fingers, the pack may be too large. If the buckle is much higher or on top of your fingers, the pack may be too small. (This rule may or may not apply to external frame packs, depending on age and manufacturer.)

When your waist belt is on and fitting properly, you should have at least 3” of room for adjustability on each side of your buckle. If the waist belt padding is touching the buckle, you need a smaller waist belt. If the waist belt ends at your hip bones, you may need a larger waist belt. A proper fitting waist belt will wrap comfortably around your hip bones with about an inch of padding above and an inch of padding below.

Some packs such as Gregory®, offer interchangeable hip belts and shoulder straps from the manufacturer. This is particularity helpful if you happen to be someone who is tall and skinny with a long torso and small hips, or if you happen to be someone who is short and stocky, with a short torso and wide hips. Check with your packs manufacturer or retailer if you feel your body shape may benefit from interchangeable pack pieces… Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to get them to sell me new hips.

–Written by Tami Asars